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County commissioners and state legislators discuss juvenile justice bill

Despite not being treated as an adult under Georgia law, at the age of 17 a person is considered an adult for the purposes of criminal law — but a bill in the Georgia House proposes to change that.

At an early morning breakfast with state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, Floyd County commissioners discussed the proposed changes to the law concerning juvenile code.

House Bill 440 would adjust the juvenile code to classify those accused of a crime under the age of 18 as juveniles. Currently in Georgia, 17-year-olds are treated as adults for the purpose of prosecution, where they go to jail, and where their cases are tried.

The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur.

If this bill were to pass, 17-year-olds would be considered delinquents upon being charged and sent to juvenile court.

Floyd County Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price said Georgia is the last of three states to have this system in place. Price said he supports the bill, and said he attended a juvenile justice committee meeting where the bill was discussed.

The importance of instituting a change comes down to the purpose of each court system.

“The purpose of juvenile court is rehabilitation, not punishment,” Price said. “My main concern is funding and how it would be implemented.”

But he said if the bill makes it into law they’ll need to discuss funding. Floyd County’s current juvenile court is maxed out on staff and space, Price said.

“I have an attorney working out of a closet,” he commented.

In order to adjust the juvenile system to include 17-year-olds, new positions would have to be added to the court system — such as probation officers, clerical positions and judicial positions.

Price explained that because of this the bill has been shot down in the past, such as in 2017.

At Monday’s luncheon, County Manager Jamie McCord spoke in favor of the bill to the legislators and talked about the problem of funding.

“For the bill to pass and do good, it needs funding. There’s no way around that,” he said.

Price commented that the bill will be brought again to Georgia state legislature when the session begins in January.

Hope's House now open as day center and resource facility for Rome's homeless

Michelle Gerald wasn’t sure when her first guest would walk through the door at Hope’s House, a new day center for Rome’s homeless that opened Tuesday at Fifth Avenue and 12th Street.

As soon as she hung up a flyer at Heritage Park on Tuesday morning, a gentleman in his 30s who had been sleeping in the woods nearby asked her what it was.

“He said he didn’t know Rome well and was asking me where it was,” said Gerald, the creator and executive director of Hope’s House. “I told him to give me 30 minutes to finish hanging the flyers and I would come back and get him and take him there myself.”

It was a godsend for both of them.

“I was able to give him everything he needed. It felt so good,” she said Tuesday as she worked to organize mounds of various kinds of bread donated by the local Panera restaurant. “Today was a really, really good day.”

Connecting the man to Highland Rivers Health for behavioral services and Northwest Georgia Housing Authority to begin an application for a home of his own was exactly what he needed, she said.

To know someone out there cared about him also was vital, she said.

“He kept talking about how depressed he was and he kept breaking down and crying,” said Gerald, who worked in case management at Highland Rivers for several years. “I told him to stop apologizing and to just let it out. ‘Cleanse yourself,’ I told him.”

After more than two years in the making, Gerald is finally seeing her dream of having her own day center and resource facility come to life, thanks to the support of her husband, Johnny Gerald, her longtime friend and Hope’s House Life Coach Mauricia Pledger, her board of directors and many other community members along the way.

She held her Grand Opening Monday night to introduce the 1930s renovated home across from Relax Inn and Enterprise Car Rental to more than 20 community members.

Pledger guided tours throughout the eight-room home, pointing out the computer room with four Dell desktops for job-hunting and resource-researching, the discussion room for group sessions, the entertainment room with a large flat-screen TV and movies, the den with comfy couches and the large activities room for crafts and games.

Gerald envisions providing nursing care, spiritual support, snacks, craft classes, counseling and a wide range of other support services as needs arise.

“This is such a blessing,” said Betty Gibson, a staff member at Hospitality House for Women. “It’s been my heart’s desire for 10 years. I know the need and it is great. Now people will have somewhere to go during the day.”

Local homeless shelters such as The Salvation Army and Davies Shelters do not allow their guests to be at the shelters between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

This is to enable them to follow their individualized plans to seek other services, jobs and permanent housing during the day.

The need for a centralized day facility like Hope’s House had been raised at several Homelessness Task Force meetings over the past several months.

Sam Buice, who ministers at the Rome Community Kitchen and helps provide meals through Living Water Ministries, said Tuesday he feels Hope’s House was sent by God. He’s planning on taking a van full of homeless folks over there Wednesday after they’ve had their meal at Community Kitchen.

“It’s really nice,” Buice said. “It looks like it’s going to be a great resource. It’s perfect timing, too. We just started a new feeding location at 1013 Martha Berry Blvd. near Pizza Hut and that’s just around the corner from Hope’s House.”

Gerald said she’s finishing up the final required paperwork for her 501(c)3 application — a process that has added a few more gray hairs to her soft curly locks.

“It was so complicated,” she said with a heavy sigh. “It’s finally just about done and I’ll be able to file it soon. But I just know this is what I was meant to do. The gentleman I helped this morning definitely solidified that for me. It was a slow day, but it was a good day for sure.”

Georgia's homeless services staff shares resources with local nonprofits, community leaders

Bridget, a 32-year-old mother of four with her own home business, was always fiercely independent.

Until she was raped.

The trauma sent her into a downward spiral that led to her homelessness and sudden dependence on others, she said.

“I fell into a depression and it was really hard to get myself back on track,” she told nearly 140 people at a Georgia Department of Community Affairs informational meeting about available resources for the homeless Tuesday at the Rome Civic Center. “I bounced from hotel to hotel. When you work from home selling stuff on Etsy and you have children up under you, it makes it really hard, plus I had to pay over $200 a week.”

Connecting with the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority in Rome, Good Neighbor Ministries and Action Ministries all helped her get into an apartment of her own, she said. Although there were challenges at first with an uncooperative landlord who expected far too much money upfront, she said continued support from local entities has made all the difference for her and her family.

“I’m just taking it slow each and every day,” she said. “I’m still going through the process.”

It’s for people like Bridget and the hundreds of other unsheltered people in the Floyd County area that the Office of Homeless and Special Needs Housing at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs felt compelled to visit Rome at the invitation of the Homelessness Task Force.

Several staff members of the state agency presented information on a variety of resources local nonprofits and community leaders might be able to use to help the local homeless population.

Michael Thomas, the continuum of care program manager at DCA, started off with the reasons why there are more than 10,000 homeless individuals in Georgia.

“Poverty is a unifying condition,” Thomas said. “Minimum wage doesn’t cut it. Working 160 hours a month, that’s only about $1,100 a month and ends up being a large percentage of rent.”

Thomas added that 45% of homeless adults worked in the past 30 days.

“There’s the perception that the homeless don’t work,” he pointed out. “The problem is they’re not earning enough to afford housing.”

He was mostly preaching to the choir as he listed mental illness, domestic violence, incarceration, substance abuse and lack of support for veterans as the other causes of homelessness. But he and his colleagues hoped information on such resources as the Coordinated Entry system, Emergency Solutions Grant, the Continuum of Care program and the Reentry Partnership Housing Provider program would provide something new they could run with.

Although Floyd is one of the 152 Georgia counties within the DCA’s Continuum of Care program and therefore able to participate in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual funding competition, Floyd County is not considered a HUD Entitlement Community and so is not eligible for direct funding from HUD.

"Other larger cities across Georgia receive funding directly from HUD that they don't have to compete for through an application process with DCA," Bekki Fox, Rome's Community Development director, explained later. "They get it through a formula allocation, just like we receive Community Development Block Grant funds here in Rome."

Rome and Floyd County nonprofits can, however, also apply for the ESG funds. They’re available for street outreach, emergency shelter, supportive services for the homeless, homelessness prevention, rental assistance, the Homelessness Management Information System, hotel/motel vouchers and rapid rehousing.

Beneficiaries include households that were homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness that have certain poverty-level incomes or individuals who are chronically homeless. People with HIV/AIDS, the elderly, veterans, victims of domestic violence, those suffering from mental illnesses or those dealing with substance abuse issues also are eligible.

Organizers told attendees they would email important links to grant applications.

Rome City Commissioner-elect Bonny Askew expressed frustration over Floyd County not being eligible for some of the grant funds.

“There’s a lot of money available on some things, but when you’ve got millions for Atlanta or Augusta and only $40,000 for other counties, that’s not a lot to work with,” Askew said.

Rome’s Assistant City Manager Patrick Eidson took a more optimistic approach to the information that was shared.

“It’s great to have more resources we can look into for our community,” Eidson said. “Just like the United Way model, we all just want to sit at the same table and figure this out together.”

Tessa Teems, a second-grader at Model Elementary School

Scotty Hancock and Wright Bagby to serve second term as chair and vice chair of county commission

At the last Floyd County Commission meeting of the year, board members voted for the chair and vice chair for 2020.

Commissioner Rhonda Wallace made the motion to appoint Chair Scotty Hancock for a second term and was met with unanimous agreement.

Likewise, Commissioner Allison Watters made the motion to appoint Vice Chair Wright Bagby for another term and was met with the same reaction.

Hancock thanked fellow commissioners for the appointment and said he was looking forward to serving in 2020.

The installation of outdoor LED lighting sponsored by Georgia Power was approved by board members during the consent agenda section of the meeting.

These eco-friendly lights will help save an estimated $200,000 in electric fees and some areas in Floyd County are already benefiting from it, according to County Manager Jamie McCord.

The following areas are included on the list for LED outdoor lighting:

♦ Applewood Subdivision

♦ Covey Rise Subdivision

♦ Hampton Preserve Subdivision

♦ Lexington Lane Subdivision

♦ Mountain Creek Subdivision

♦ Trimble Way Subdivision

♦ Forest Glen Subdivision

♦ Dump Stations No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3

♦ Law Enforcement Center exterior

♦ Richard B. Russell Regional Airport

♦ Public Works facility

♦ State Mutual Stadium parking lots

County commissioners also approved the maximum price for renovations of the Floyd County Jail for $5,921,02. Carroll Daniel Construction has already been chosen to oversee the renovations.

The approval for the recommendation to award T&K Construction the contract to handle the Walker Mountain Road Municipal Solid Waste Landfill Phase 8 cell project was passed, with a maximum cost of $6,848,285.19.

Commissioners also signed off on the approval of construction quality assurance and administration of the landfill project contracts with Atlantic Coast Consultants Inc. with the contract being capped at $225,000.

McCord commented that this landfill cell is estimated to last the county for the next eight to 10 years.

Commission members also approved the Floyd County 2020 budget. McCord stated that he feels good about how 2019 went and hopes the new year will be the same.

McCord commented that one of the highlights is the 2% cost of living increase for Floyd County employees as well as the LED lighting project that will begin in the next year.